If you are at all familiar with Starfleet, then you would know that it has produced many heroes; many great men and women who served their respective peoples well and eventually wrote their way into history. Yes, Starfleet has a knack for producing those blazing stars, those golden children who stand out amongst their peers and earn ships and crews, and go out into the sky to represent the Federation. And of course there are the rest of the young hopefuls—like me—who become the crew and not usually the captain. That was always my goal, although I’d hoped to rank up high enough to get my voice heard within my own sphere of influence… and I did… perhaps for different reasons than I’d care to admit, but it served me in the end.
But then there are those individuals such as Tom Paris, who have managed to slip in through the cracks in the entrance exams. They join Starfleet to serve their own purposes, their own secret agendas. When we were together, I was utterly floored by his mind, his creations. It is only now as I look back on it all that I can see them for what they really are, and it is perhaps that bitterness that taints many of the memories that I hold on to of us. It is also possible that I’ve distorted it, maybe even imagined things as if to inflate it, to justify what we did in my own mind. As most things do, it started slowly and grew until he’d mastered an unbreakable spell over me, of which I have a great deal of regret. I believe that he began roping me in the moment we met, those years ago when we were still young, only just cadets.
I had been at Starfleet Academy almost a whole three years before I met his acquaintance and I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon I would promote from cadet to ensign and get sent out on a real Federation Starship; just the thought of flying around up there in the stars used to made me giddy with excitement. The only people probably more excited than me were my parents. They missed me of course, and I think that they would have almost liked it better if I would’ve stayed at home. And done what, then? Become a musician? No, I had an aptitude for the clarinet, but that wasn’t a career that I wished to pursue full-time. If I ranked up high enough, maybe I could put it in to start a Starfleet band. Yeah, that’s what I thought I would do. Until then, it was keep practicing and stay focused on schoolwork.
It was true that I was focused, and dedicated, and everything that you’d expect a good student to be. I had a reputation for following the rules and putting all my effort into every assignment, which had made me popular with some of the professors but not so many friends. We were all so busy with our work that we didn’t have much time to make friends anyways, or at least that’s what we all told ourselves in order to make it through each semester. It was at the time in my training when I got to do more hands-on assignments, working with some of the engineers and tactical officers to design and test prototype systems that would hopefully eventually work their way into the fleet. Mostly I was a grunt; doing the dirty work and filling out reports, but sometimes I was allowed to participate in the tests. It was on one of those days when I met him, when the course of my work would be irreversibly altered.
The test had been a failure, but I refused to give up. I’d had a heavy hand in designing that particular targeting system and I wanted nothing more than to see it succeed. The dang thing just wouldn’t lock on, which was the worst possible thing that could’ve gone wrong. Kind of like if someone’s heart just wouldn’t beat; yeah, it’d be a disaster. I’d insisted on continuing to channel ‘power’ into the network (it was all a simulation of course, so I had nothing to lose but my own pride) even after the other officers had started to back away.
“Kim, your optimism is touching, but a waste of time.” The senior officer, a Bajoran lieutenant, informed. She was kind enough, a great instructor, but had a terrible time with patience. It wasn’t like we were in much of a hurry; this wasn’t a warzone, we didn’t need to pump out technology. I thought our time would be better spent fixing the stuff we were working on rather than scrapping it all to make room for a new project, but she was the boss and she didn’t think that way. “A good officer knows when to stop.”
“I can get it working!” I protested, hands still lingering over the console. I could feel my work dying in front of me and I was practically helpless, forced to follow the will of a lieutenant who wasn’t even very invested in the test in the first place “I know I can.”
“We’re done here. Better luck next time, Cadet.” She, along with the other officers and cadets who’d participated in the simulation, filed out of the room to prepare for whatever great idea was next. Knowing my luck, it’d probably become some sort of great success. I would have liked to say that my failure made me more dedicated, more hardworking and ready to pound out the next task that was delegated to me, but mostly I just felt defeated. Crushed, even. All I had wanted to do was prove that maybe I could be one of those blazing stars. It wasn’t my fault that the targeting system had failed (really my hand in the entire project was minimal at best), but I felt like I should have been able to revive it. I’d had all the tools at my disposal, but I couldn’t do it.
I was left with the work of powering down the simulation and making sure all the components were put back in their rightful places. This wasn’t so bad; it was trying, sure, but it gave me time to think. I was going to have to ‘bury’ my project, so to speak, so it gave me time to think through everything that went wrong. When I was done at the main testing site, I gathered up the data chips used and took them out into the hall. There was a special lab on the lowest floor (actually, it might have even been underground, but there were so few windows that it always felt as if we were underground) where all of the broken or consumed pieces were stored and all useful data extracted. It was part of my final duty to take my failed program to its final resting place—the computer where it’d be analyzed, then most likely scrapped.
I paused by the entrance of the joint storage and examination room to get clearance from the security guard, a stony-faced Vulcan with little interest in his position. I often found him thumbing through pages of books or more commonly, scrolling through PADD after PADD. It was clear that like me, he would rather be off on a ship somewhere, doing something more exciting with his career, but this was where his rotation had landed him. It could’ve been worse though; I could think of worse stations to be, especially for a Vulcan.
“Hey, Tuvok.” No response from the security guard. “I’ve got another one.” I held up the storage devices for the man to see.
“Doctor Zimmerman is in the examination room.” He informed, buzzing the door open so I could get inside. I thought it was a little unnecessary to keep such high security on the area; we were in one of the most secure areas on the planet. And anyways, who would want to break into this place, of all rooms? It was just a bunch of junk—rejects and deteriorating programs. None of the stuff that came in here ever got out, unless it was in a pile of ash.
I took little note of the balding man in the center of the room, the teacher who I’d had the privilege to learn from in the form of classes during my position at Starfleet Academy. The storage room, which connected directly to the examination room, was empty and chilled because computers don’t need temperature control. Energy efficiency 101. Still, it gave me the creeps. The thought of staying in the room any longer than I had to was unappealing and I quickly made the drop, then exited back into the main room. I paused only out of courtesy, because the other man had an ego and he liked to think that others (especially his students) cared immensely about his work. Dr. Zimmerman was conducting a test on some sort of failed idea of his, but I couldn’t identify what exactly he was doing. I was so engrossed with watching the older man work that I hadn’t heard anyone else enter the room. A hand on my shoulder caused me to jump. After seeing what had caused the startle, I began to turn red with embarrassment.
“I’m sorry Harry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” It was the head of our department, Commander Kathryn Janeway. The middle-aged woman was a good four or five inches shorter than me, but the way she carried herself made her appear much, much taller. Although I didn’t know her as well as I’d liked, I knew she was a fair woman who was willing to give anyone a chance. As a display of this she liked to sponsor cadets that the other professors and staff at the Academy tended to dismiss. I’d often overheard the commander referring to it as being a ‘good shepherd’, as having a duty to give extra assistance to cadets who maybe had a different learning style or just needed a bit of encouragement or extra help. One of such cadets was my best friend, who’d once come dangerously close to dropping out of the Academy. The important thing was that she was an attentive supervisor who I felt had my back, someone I could turn to with a problem. Janeway and I got along well, although we rarely interacted directly (something that was probably my fault; I didn’t want to bother her with anything trivial and thus far I hadn’t run into many real obstacles).
“That’s ok, Commander.” I offered a sheepish smile. “I just didn’t know anybody was here.”
“You mean anybody else.” My attention was drawn for the first time to a man who was standing a couple of paces behind the commander, staring at me attentively. He was taller than me, an awkwardly-built man with a slim figure. He hadn’t yet trimmed his sandy blond hair to meet Academy standards and so a couple strands of it fell loosely over his piercing blue eyes, not even completely combed back neatly. There was something about him that intimidated me, and it wasn’t just the way he carried himself or his bold hairstyle. I knew, even then—before we’d even introduced ourselves—that there was something not quite right about him. It was stupid of me, I knew that. How many people in the department misjudged me just based on how I appeared? Just about every person in our class had referred to my ‘baby face’ at one point or another and one more than one occasion had inquired about my actual age. No, this man deserved the benefit of my doubt. His cadet uniform meant I’d be studying with him and I sure wasn’t out to make any enemies. “Hello Harry, I’m Tom.” Friendly, but arrogant, as if I couldn’t tell that already by his reluctance to assimilate into the ‘cadet look’.
I waited for him to offer out a hand, but he only crossed his arms and tilted his head slightly. I knew then that he was waiting for me to make the first move, that he was trying to assess me just as much as I was attempting to figure him out. But the time for handshakes had passed and I thought anything now would be awkward, look more like an afterthought. Our interaction was not off to a good start, but if he really was a new student, perhaps he was just nervous. Not shy, but anxious to see where he’d fit into the assortment of young hopefuls who gathered at the academy. It was I who broke off our unofficial staring contest first, glancing back at Commander Janeway as so she might provide more information on the subject.
“Mr. Paris was doing some independent research in Marseille. That’s in France, isn’t it?” Janeway looked to Tom for confirmation, who just gave a quick nod. The man took the opportunity to slowly circle the room slowly with his eyes, examining the area with great interest. It was almost as if he was searching for something, but I didn’t know then what his intentions at the academy were. “He’s decided to re-join Starfleet.” Paris. The name sounded familiar. Wasn’t there an admiral with that name? I also found it interesting that Janeway seemed to imply that he’d once been a member of the organization, but had either dropped or been dropped. Thinking it might be a touchy subject, I didn’t pry.
“What were you researching?” I asked, hoping to gather some information on this mysterious new transfer student. There was a slight hesitation before he answered, not meeting my eye.
“Holograms.” No elaboration. We stood there awkwardly for a minute before Janeway turned to address the fourth and forgotten man in the room. He’d so far stayed out of the conversation but had put down everything he’d been working on, clearly waiting for some sort of introduction or at least recognition.
“Ah, Lewis!” Janeway quickly greeted, as though she hadn’t even noticed he was there right away. Wrong, of course, but the doctor was a sour man and it was best to try and keep him happy. “We don’t see you around here much anymore.” It was true, Zimmerman had begun much of his own independent research and only stopped by when he needed materials to test his theories on or for the couple of hours a week that he taught class (in which case, avoiding all main hallways and doing his best to be covert, something many of the students snickered privately about). I supposed that’s what you could get away with when you’d catalogued as many years at the university as he had. Of course it didn’t hurt that much of Zimmerman’s work had eventually panned out to be worthwhile, earning Starfleet a fat check. “I was just showing our newest student, Tom Paris, the not so grand tour.” She chuckled, but Zimmerman didn’t crack so much as a smirk.
“You know, I’ve heard of your work, Doctor Zimmerman.” Tom stepped forward now, the edge of arrogance that I’d previously detected now tipping the points of his words. He was not impressed with the older researcher, that much was certain. “Your theory on the creation of sentient holograms is… “ He made a face, feigning thought and concentration as if searching for the right word. “Interesting… though it’s derivative of Vulcan research in the early 2350’s.” And what would the young Mr. Paris know about Vulcan research? Clearly he’d studied up on his history. Either way, his eagerness to provoke a man he’d only just met intrigued me. Just who did he think he was? “So derivative that in some parts-” He gestured around, referring to space in general, “-it’s considered plagiarized.”
This didn’t go over well. I could see the muscles in Dr. Zimmerman’s face quivering, straining. Teeth grinding. He had a reputation for having a salty mouth, but he’d gotten in trouble for unleashing some of his colorful phrases on both staff and students. With Commander Janeway, his superior, there… well it was likely that he was holding himself back from saying anything that he’d regret. Tom, in contrast, couldn’t prevent a smug smile from creeping up his face. He thought he was winning, but what exactly he thought he was winning I still have no idea. It could have been revenge, it could have been to establish himself, it could have even just been because he was the kind of guy who needed to take a couple of swings every now and then. He could have stopped right then and there and still would have walked away the victor, but that wasn’t good enough for him.
“Frankly?” Tom continued, either not noticing or not caring that he was riling the staff member up, “Your work on holograms is outdated.” Had Janeway not stepped in front of Tom at that moment, I feared that there might have been a crime scene in the examination room. If there was one thing you didn’t want to imply to Zimmerman, it was that he was aging, that there would be new scientists trying to nudge him out of the way and get their hands on the programs he’d spent a lifetime developing. Tom had just crossed that boundary and I knew even then that there was no way to un-step over that line. There would be a price to pay. And in hindsight, maybe it would’ve been better if Janeway and I would have let the two square up and duke it out. It sure would have saved me a hell of a lot of trouble.
“Lewis, while I remember…” The commander quickly changed the subject, wanting to avoid a bloodshed just as much as I did. “We’re having a department meeting on Thursday. B’Elanna and I would love it if you came to dinner afterwards.” Evasion at its finest. Janeway sure had a reputation for diplomacy, which is probably what had boosted her to her position as department head in the first place. Usually it took a much higher rank—say, captain or admiral, to claim the job.
“I’d love to, Kathryn.” Zimmerman stood up a little straighter, apparently pleased at the recognition and validation Janeway had shown him. He thought she’d taken his side, while really she was trying her best to be impartial. I wasn’t going to be the guy to break it to him. “I’m looking forward to it.” Then, tilting his head up so he could see over the woman, “And I’m looking forward to seeing you in class, Mister Paris.” A feeling of dread and anticipation rose up in my stomach; I was in that class as well and although I’d just met the guy, I didn’t want to see Tom have to suffer through an angry professor for the entire semester. Maybe it was me telling myself to watch out, and maybe I should’ve listened. As I said before, there was something about this mysterious transfer student, this ominous Tom Paris, that drew me in. Despite the impending trouble, I was intrigued. I didn’t know it yet, but I was already trapped in his web… and I was in for one hell of a ride.
It was still early in the semester and I was in the market for a new roommate. The guy I’d previously housed with had just graduated and landed a job on Earth Spacedock, leaving me by myself. The Academy provided housing for students, but I didn’t like the small apartment that they’d offered and like many of my fellow students, opted for something with a few more amenities. At the time, I was exceptionally proud of the shabby-looking shack I rented from a pair of Bolian brothers who owned the entire block. It was the first time I’d lived on my own and although my parents frequently offered to visit and help me fix the place up, I always insisted on doing it myself. It was my responsibility and I was determined to prove I didn’t need any help.
One slight oversight I’d made was that I had absolutely no experience whatsoever. Apparently learning to re-plaster walls was much more complicated than the instructional PADDs had made it sound. I didn’t even dream of playing around with the plumbing or god forbid- the food replicator. My old roommate has a medical student who spent most of his hours at the hospital so he didn’t much care what kind of condition the house was in as long as he could sleep and shower. For a while, it looked like I was just going to have to deal with a few leaky spots in the roof and floorboards that creaked before you even stepped down on them.
It was some great stroke of luck that I’d become close friends with an engineer. Together, B’Elanna and I had been able to patch up the larger issues and make it at least livable. This being said, it wasn’t exactly appealing to most of the prospective tenants and I was starting to get desperate; most students had already found somewhere to stay for the semester and I really wanted someone to split the upkeep work with. It was this desperation that persuaded me to post old-fashioned notes all over the ground of the Academy, hoping that I could pique the interest of at least one classmate. It was as I was pinning up the last of the advertisements that B’Elanna caught up to me.
“Hi.” I greeted, stepping away from the wall so that I could face her.
“Hi.” She returned, then started walking. I quickly caught up to her, matching her pace. My house was only a couple of blocks away from campus and it was usually our go-to afterschool spot, as boring as that sounded. It was at least nice that we had to walk through the gardens outside of the academy, which sometimes worked as a de-stressor after an especially arduous day of classes. Today appeared to be one of such occasions for my classmate; she was unusually quiet.
“Long day?” Engineers had it rough. I thought I had a lot to memorize and study, but operations was about recognizing patterns and decision making, not mastering complex physics. It was hard to complain after befriending a student interested in that. The half-Klingon sighed in agreement, probably just glad to be out of class for a minute. We continued to walk in silence and I thought it better to just let her relax, surely she’d feel better by the time we got home. If not, I wasn’t opposed to cracking open a tub of the high-end gelato I’d snatched up on my last grocery run.
We rounded the last corner and it wasn’t long before the row of broken and battered homes came into view. Mine was the one at the end and I liked to think that it looked the nicest out of the group, though that was most certainly not true. I didn’t even have any grass or shrubbery; they’d died long before I’d moved in and gardening had always been at the bottom of my to-do list. If I ever befriended a botanist, maybe something could get done. In the meantime, I knew I’d just have to settle for the crooked and dusty mess that was the fence that surrounded the front yard and a Vulcan-looking garden gnome that served as the only decoration.
B’Elanna settled right in at her usual spot on the sagging couch in my living room and it struck me then—as it often had—that she would be the perfect candidate to be my new roommate. It wasn’t as if she didn’t spend much of her time at my house anyways, but I was well aware that she already had a permanent residence. Part of being sponsored was agreeing to whatever her senior officer wanted and in this case, that meant residing with Commander Janeway until graduation. I don’t mean to hint that there was anything wrong with this agreement. Actually, I was a bit jealous… as were many of our classmates. Although the Commander lived only a fifteen minutes’ walk away from my residence, it was a completely different neighborhood. Her house, well-maintained and with a flourishing garden, had a spectacular view of both the Academy and the Bay. It was spacious enough for a whole squadron, although it only housed Janeway and her chosen student.
“Did you get your tests back yet?” I asked, once B’Elanna had eaten enough of the gelato to lift her mood a little.
“Not yet. So that’s what the cause of all the stress was. I was a bit relieved that it had nothing to do with any disagreements with other students or even a poor grade on any assignment. I’d helped her study for the exam in question for hours and I was almost as anxious as she was to see the results. I was about to say something else when suddenly my cat launched herself from an overhead shelf onto the space on couch just between the two of us, scaring B’Elanna and I half to death.
“Seven!” I chided, picking up the cream-colored shorthair and placing her back down on the ground. I’d gotten her as a kitten, when my parents’ hadn’t been able to part with the entire litter. There had been nine babies and instead of naming them, we’d just numbered them and let the new owners decide what to call their felines. For some reason, I’d just never thought to re-name mine. Seven of Nine stuck.
“I should probably go.” B’Elanna stood then, picking up her bag.
“You just got here!” I had been hoping we could have a go at one of our new projects, maybe get started on some research for an essay in our ethics class. “Stay for another hour.”
“Janeway knows I’m here.” Not that it was a bad thing; the Commander approved of and even encouraged our friendship. I was my impression that it was the whole side-project thing that Janeway wasn’t fond of. If she knew that we were tinkering around here instead of just studying, she’d have a fit. B’Elanna had almost flunked out in her first year at the academy because she was dedicating too much time to personal projects and not focusing as much on the school work, but with sponsorship had managed to straighten out her grades. Now that I am removed from the situation, I can see more clearly what the Commander intended. She just didn’t want B’Elanna to lose her focus again to the enticement of a personal project. At the time though, I found it wholly unfair. “It’s late already; if I didn’t come home for dinner…”
“What would she do?” I teased, knowing that I’d already lost the fight. “Expel me?”
“It’s just the way she is.” The engineering student shrugged, “The day I graduate, I’ll move in.” B’Elanna was two semesters ahead of me, but she was planning on sticking around another year as a teaching assistant to gain some more experience and insight before going out onto a Starship. Once she lost sponsorship, she’d lose access to Janeway’s home and would need a place to stay… I was more than happy to volunteer my humble abode, although it was no replacement for the comfort B’Elanna would be losing. “Until then…” She stepped towards the front room now, walking backwards so that we could still carry a conversation. Even so, I got up and followed her to see her out. “At least it gives me a chance to teach you how to cook.”
“How to cook, eh?” I was the self-proclaimed master of microwavable meals and stovetop dinners. If my parents knew, they probably would have moved in with me just to make sure I was eating properly. I enjoyed the change though, being able to indulge in the junk while I was young and still had the metabolism to do so. Whenever B’Elanna was over late I treated her to some of my special dishes; she was not nearly as fond of them as I was. The engineer stomached it of course (what academy student would turn down a hot meal?) but had often threatened that when she was a resident, she wouldn’t let me eat such garbage all the time.
B’Elanna reached for the doorknob and bode me one last good night. I was about to wish her the same as she swung open the door, but was cut off when the half-Klingon suddenly jumped back from the opening with surprise. Standing only inches from the frame was none other than Tom Paris, the transfer student I’d met just that morning. The porch light illuminated his pale skin eerily, casting a distorted shadow on the opened door like a monster out of a campfire story. I saw that he’d gotten his hair cut shorter; just low enough not to be criticized by instructors, but definitely on the edge of regulation length.
“Can I help you?” B’Elanna recovered from the shock quicker than I did and addressed the student. I didn’t think they’d met yet, so of course she didn’t recognize him by sight. I had yet to tell her about my strange experience with Tom down in the examination room so she wouldn’t even know him by name. The man held up a PADD that was opened up to a picture of the advertisement I’d posted around campus with my ‘roommate wanted’ listing on it.
“You’re here about the house?” I asked, a bit surprised. I would have thought that the academy would have secured board for him, as they usually did for transfer students in their first semesters in San Francisco.
“Yeah.” Tom confirmed, a small smile tracing up his lips. Spoken as though he’d thought it would be obvious and he was amused that I’d had to ask. The man stared at me with great intensity, almost daring me to let him in. Had it not been B’Elanna who’d answered the door, I had a feeling he would have pushed through. His gaze turned to the half-Klingon then, seeming to size her up. “I’m Tom. Tom Paris.” His words were nearly as warm or genuine as the introduction he’d given me.
“Torres.” She returned with the same tone, not bothering to put on any sort of mask of bubbling amity, as cadets often did when trying to make connections with one another.
“Come on in.” My encouragement pressed B’Elanna to step aside and allow the man entry, which he did after only a moment of hesitation. “Let me get the documents.” I assumed Tom would want to be sure that everything was certified, that it met safety standards even though parts of the house looked like it surely wouldn’t. The last thing I wanted was to scare the guy away on informalities like missing paperwork. Maybe the guy wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I made the posting, but I wasn’t going to turn him away because he seemed to have some sort of an attitude problem. We were all adults; I figured that we could find a way to live together no matter the circumstances. When I returned to the living room, both of my guests were deathly silent. They were standing side by side uncomfortably, eyes quickly snapping to my form as I re-entered. “Sorry about the mess, Mr. Paris.” I gestured around, referring to the scattered mechanical pieces and PADDS that littered the furniture.
“Tom.” The man corrected, beginning to walk around on his own now. He had taken the documents from me, but had yet to actually read what any of it said. It appeared that Tom was much more interested in seeing the layout of the home. He afforded the living room only a short glance and didn’t even enter the kitchen, heading straight for the hallway. I figured he just wanted to see where his bedroom would be; I would probably want to do the same. B’Elanna and I followed behind him at a measured distance, not encroaching on the potential roommate’s viewing space but wanting to make sure he didn’t poke his nose into anything he shouldn’t. We had nothing to hide, but some areas were better left private.
“So…” I didn’t like the lack of conversation, it made me feel uneasy. “You’ve just come from Europe?”
“France.” Tom agreed, although he didn’t sound particularly enthusiastic about it. Like before, he didn’t elaborate on the kind of work that he was doing. He turned suddenly then, a question bubbling up inside his always-thinking mind. “Does this building have a basement?” An odd question, but I knew a couple of cadets who’d turned their basements into workout rooms. The man in front of me was the very definition of the word lanky, tall and thin without much muscle definition. He didn’t look like the kind of guy who would put in a gym, but there were all sorts of things one could do with the space. I’ll admit I was actually a bit curious about what he had in mind.
“Sure.” I didn’t use it except for storage and even then there was a bunch of crap that could probably be cleared out and thrown away. I pointed Tom towards the door that lead down the stairs, which the three of us promptly descended. The air was different down there, cooler, staler. It reminded me very much of the storage room I’d visited earlier in the day and I had to say that I didn’t much like it. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d been down in the basement. The prospective resident, however, appeared to be quite thrilled with what he saw. Tom stepped around the piles of clutter, muttering things to himself that sounded like dimensions of some sort.
“Yes…” He hissed, in a voice so low I thought I probably wasn’t meant to hear. Then, he spun around with great excitement and determination. “I think this will be just fine!” His interest made me happy; I’d finally managed to secure someone to move in and he hadn’t once questioned any of the ‘problem areas’ of the home or requested that I remove my cat from the premises. I hadn’t even thought that the basement was worth listing in the original ad, when really it appeared to be the selling point. That being said, there was still something about Paris that I wasn’t quite sure about. It was clear that he had a plan, that he had his own goals that were most likely not related to schoolwork. B’Elanna and I had our own side projects, but it was still something I was wary about. Perhaps I’d just need to get to know the guy a little better, get to know who he was and where he was coming from. “I have my things outside, shall I move in now?”
“Harry!” B’Elanna looked sharply at me. She didn’t trust this guy either and I didn’t blame her. It was awfully sudden, a little too forward. But then again, if he didn’t have anywhere else to stay the night, I could understand his urgency to secure a bed. My friend sighed then, probably realizing that she didn’t have time to get involved in any roommate negotiations. “I have to go.” The engineering student took a step back up the stairs. “I think you and Mr. Paris have a lot to discuss before you decide anything.”
“Oh, I’ve decided!” Tom laughed. I wondered if he knew B’Elanna was speaking to me or if he just didn’t care. I was about to protest, but then the new student continued. “You’ll never even know that I’m here, except on the first of the month.” With this, he withdrew a PADD from his coat and handed it to me. On it was an incomplete energy credit transfer. Tom had already made out the amount and signed it, just leaving blank the space where my signature would go. He was ready to pay the credits over to my account, as soon as I gave the word. Well, there was certainly something to be said about his preparedness. Arrogance, maybe. But it was hard to argue with the promptness. I didn’t want someone who was going to flake out, no matter how friendly they were.
“Mister Paris.” The half-Klingon growled, clearly unhappy with the arrangement. She was just looking out for my safety, I knew that. I was flattered, really, but her concern was misplaced. Tom wasn’t dangerous, he was just a little… occupied. He was still a cadet, after all. One had to have at least some moral character to make it that far.
“Miss Torres?” Tom cocked his head slightly, looking up to the engineer’s position on the stairs and crossing his arms defiantly.
“You didn’t say why you left France.” She was trying to fish out information, trying to figure out what business he had coming to San Francisco. I had to admit I was more than a little curious about this myself, but it was probably best saved for another date.
“My education there was complete.” Tom then looked to me, the one who held all the power. “Look, Harry, do we have a deal or what?” I glanced once at the PADD in my hands. Who knew if anyone else would even answer the advertisement if I turned this guy down; I needed a roommate and that meant I didn’t have the right to be too choosy about it.
“Done.” I finally agreed, offering a small smile. This time, the man returned it with one of his own. It was an almost hypnotizing kind of grin, the kind that diplomats and used-car salespeople used to ensure trust and instill confidence. The kind of smile that was very much like the sun; I couldn’t bring myself to look away, even though I had a good sense of knowing the danger of the allure. I didn’t know any better then; I was just a young cadet who still thought the best of people. Maybe Tom had seen it and that was why he’d chosen me, or maybe he really did think of me as someone he could trust, even if only minimally.
“Done.” He echoed, eyes turning up to B’Elanna, who just huffed and hurried up the stairs. Maybe she wasn’t happy with my decision, but it was my decision. Of course, at the time I didn’t fully understand what I’d gotten myself into; who I’d made associates with. I didn’t understand who I’d let into my home. Or what I’d just agreed to let the basement become.
The first couple of days were awkward, to say the least. Tom and I rarely spoke, aside from what was necessary to be functional roommates. As the guy got settled in, I saw even less of him. I often heard some sort of racket from the basement but for some reason I had yet to go down and check out whatever renovations he was making. Actually, I take that back. I hadn’t gone to investigate because I was afraid my snooping might scare the guy away and I was just starting to hope that I could get him to open up to me. The two of us shared a class and even though we didn’t do any of the assignments together, it was just enough to start to soften the guy up. Already he’d begun to trudge along home aside me after class, but that was only on the days when B’Elanna was too busy to join. I wasn’t one to complain though; I’d take what I could get.
The only downside was that the class Tom and I shared was terribly boring, even though the subject itself was something that we were both interested in: the art of designing holograms. A more accurate title for the course would have been ‘the art of listening to an overzealous professor go on and on about every little functioning unit as if it were the crucial part in a functioning matrix ’. It was good to see an instructor interested in his life’s work but really, it was too much. There were students in the class who enjoyed it because they wished to pursue holographics, but I often wished the proctor would save all the complex material for more advanced classes and just teach us the basics, if there were any… and even that was no guarantee. The subject never came easily to me, although Tom appeared to master all of the concepts with ease. It was my hope that if I could befriend the man, he could help me pass the tests and use him as my own flotation device to survive the semester.
One thing was for sure; I knew I’d never be able to go to the professor for some extra help. Zimmerman cared only about his own work and that which he could force his students to learn. Usually that was something involving his own work, so it all came to center around him eventually. Had the academy not required him to teach at least a few sessions in order to get access to lab space and materials, the doctor most likely wouldn’t even have come near the ‘ignorant young minds’ that disrupted his important research to beg for his knowledge. It was only with time that I came to realize that it was not the students themselves that Zimmerman disliked. Rather, it was the stressors imposed on him by his superiors that he simply (and wrongly) channeled into his lessons. He was determined to prove that he was still worth something to Starfleet, despite his aging body I still don’t believe that Zimmerman was a cruel or even a bad man. Just misguided. A bit too focused on himself, maybe a bit too overzealous and dedicated to the craft. But not evil.
Zimmerman often spent class sitting hunched over the computer console at an odd angle that allowed him to gesture with wild animation while simultaneously punching in code. He was uncomfortable, perhaps even overwhelmed, with speaking in front of mass amounts of people. For this reason he’d elected to break class sizes into many smaller groups of people. Instead of desks and chairs he’d provided stools that were arranged in a semi-circle. In the center of the room there was a holo-grid set up where a program was slowly coming to life. He was supposed to be teaching us how to model the exterior but Zimmerman had ultimately decided that this could only come from an understanding of the programming behind holograms. Layer by layer, sub-routine by sub-routine, the program he was designing for our learning purposes was becoming something that might qualify as human-like under the right circumstances.
The creature in the program was a beast of a man, almost a nightmare come to life. It stood nearly seven feet tall, neck bend slightly forward from the simulated weight of its enormous head. The face itself was something straight from a campfire story. Large, misaligned eyes that were both slanted at different angles, as if Zimmerman had forgotten to switch on facial symmetry. The left half of the face drooped slightly lower than the right and the nose—too small for a being of that immense mass—seemed to favor the right side of the face. There was no mouth yet; the doctor had yet to program any speaking mechanisms so it hadn’t been included. As hair served no function, it had thankfully not been added to the brute. The ears, pointed like a Vulcan’s, where much too forward on the face. Zimmerman wrote the appearances of this model as being unimportant, that it would take too much class time to get all of the measurements right and anyways it wasn’t what mattered.
In any case, I had been most interested at the beginning, but after many sessions and minimal progression each class, it was getting harder to pay attention. The only condolence was that Zimmerman had promised only one more classroom period of work on the beast was necessary to get the module’s test material across. After that, he’d start on something new and at least that was something to look forward to. We only had a couple more hours and a test to suffer through. By the end of the session, most of the class seemed to almost be gazing through Dr. Zimmerman instead of at him, zoned out and inattentive. Not Tom Paris. The man sat rigidly upright on his stool as he had for the last hour, holding his blank PADD tightly in his lap. I’d never once seen Tom write anything down; either he already knew the information or refused to admit that he didn’t.
I was doing my best not to fall asleep, but that was especially difficult since Zimmerman was knee-deep in one of the most complex parts of the creation process: giving the hologram a ‘personality’ or some ‘motivations’. It was not unlike writing a character in a story, but the professor seemed to believe it took a certain kind of skill to design something lifelike. A skill that only he had developed to near-perfection, or at least so he liked to think.
“…brain death brings about an irreversible conclusion.” Zimmerman droned on, as if he needed to explain to any of us what mortality was. “We all want to retain our personalities in some idyllic afterlife. We all pray for some miracle, some drug, potion, pill…” Yes, the marvels of modern science. Already we’d extended the average lifespan much further than it’d been centuries ago, but still people were always looking for ways to stretch it even further. Just a couple more years, just a little longer youth period. Much of that experimentation and modification had been banned, but I wouldn’t rule out underground facilities. Secret research labs, the stuff science fiction novels are made out of. “Perhaps though, it takes something else. Perhaps it takes desire… an obsessive desire.”
In that moment, Dr. Zimmerman seemed a million miles away. His thoughts elsewhere, as if he’d accidentally stirred up in himself a memory he’d tried long and hard to bury. I’d often played at trying to figure out what it was that the aging man was playing with in those long hours spent in the examination room and perhaps he’d just accidentally uncovered a corner of it. He was looking for immortality. A way to make a hologram exactly like himself so that even as he continued to age and fade away, the hologram would remain as it always had. A sort of perfect holographic clone. Many programmers had toyed with the same idea, but never had anyone ever gotten close. The results were always robotic, dull. A poor imitation of life, something you’d prop up in a carnival or post in a museum. Zimmerman apparently strove for greater. As he opened his mouth to speak again, the entire class seemed to lean forward with anticipation.
“Perhaps it takes-” There was a loud snap that broke the doctor out of his spell. All eyes turned on Tom Paris, from which the sound had come from. It appeared he’d broken his PADD in half quite deliberately and was sitting there with a scowl on his face. If Tom had been aiming to startle the professor out of his fanaticizing, it had done the trick. Zimmerman had quickly composed himself and shut off the hologram we were working on, not happy to be interrupted and even less happy to get caught speaking wildly about things that could happen only in imagination. “We will discuss the location of personality in holographic structure at another time.” Zimmerman grimaced angrily, turning his attention to the student sitting just to the right of me. “Mister Paris! I suggest you get yourself a notebook!” A few of the other cadets snickered, but Tom didn’t seem to find it as funny. “Class dismissed.” At hearing this, Tom launched himself from the stool even quicker than I’d ever even seen a ship go to warp. My roommate approached Zimmerman and I worried again about the possibility of the classroom becoming a crime scene.
“How can you teach such nonsense!” Tom snarled, putting his hands on the desk in front of him. The entire class froze, waiting to watch the scene that was unfolding in front of them. “These people-” He gestured wildly around at the other students, “-are here to learn, and you’re closing their minds before they even have a chance!” I hadn’t even the slightest idea what he was talking about; Zimmerman preached his own theories (well, hypotheses) instead of the coursework, but it usually stayed just enough on-topic to meet course requirements. Although I didn’t believe that what Zimmerman spoke about was possible, I hadn’t thought it was anything so wild that it would be poisoning our minds, like Tom made it sound. “You’re no closer to creating a ‘live’ hologram than any one of the failures before you.”
“If you don’t like what I teach, what do you still come to class for?” Zimmerman countered, stuffing all of the days’ work back into its case as quickly as he could manage. Tom didn’t say anything, still seething. It looked like he didn’t have a good answer, or at least one that he cared to admit to his adversary. Having picked up the materials, the professor grabbed the case and started out towards the door. He paused once, turning around to face the student still cemented to the desk. “Mister Paris…” A mischievous smile. “It is going to be a pleasure to fail you.” He disappeared into the halls, hurrying away to continue work on his personal projects. The students stood shocked for a moment, eyes turning from the empty doorway to Tom Paris. A few nervously laughed, most shuffled out before they were sucked into any sort of involvement. They were afraid to get caught up in the drama and have their reputation tarnished, but I couldn’t flee from Tom the way that they did. As I was his only and best acquaintance (dare I say friend?), I was stuck with him.
I was met with silence during our walk back home. Although this was nothing out of the ordinary, I had been expecting another outburst of some sort, a maelstrom of curses and bitter words about Dr. Zimmerman and his wild ideas. The professor may have won that battle, but I was sure that Tom was determined to win the war. How? I had no idea. What could a cadet possibly have on such an experienced member of the staff? I could only hope it’d be an innocent practical joke and that no true Starfleet ideals were broken; what spat was worth losing one’s career over? It seemed a bad idea to get in on any shenanigans and even worse to have to pick a side, although I knew which side I’d have to take if it really came down to it. I resolved to try and stay out of it until I absolutely couldn’t.
Homework was slow that afternoon; I was waiting for B’Elanna to come over so that we could try and get some of the work done together, as we usually did. However, it was the night that Janeway had invited Zimmerman over for dinner and I knew that B’Elanna was otherwise engaged. She was unable to come over until later at night, after her hosting duties had passed. The engineering student had given me a time to drop by Janeway’s house at the very latest, a sort of back-up plan in case she was still caught up over there. Being as that B’Elanna was a better cook than Janeway, I knew that the engineer would most likely be preparing the dishes for the course and so it was no surprise that she’d gone straight home instead of stopping by my place first. Just knowing that her freedom was in my control was unbearable; I wanted to sprint over there and rescue her right away. However, I kept to my promise and to the time that the half-Klingon had given me. After an agonizing wait and a couple of threats made on the clock, I threw on a jacket and some sneakers. It was time for me to break B’Elanna out of there.
It was not a long walk and anyways I didn’t mind the night air. Even here in San Francisco, when the wind picked up without warning and was sometimes so strong that it felt like you were about to be lifted off your feet. From the elevated position I could see a few lone officers walking about the grounds of the academy at night and for some reason this was a sort of comfort, that even in the late hours the place was not abandoned or somewhere I’d fear walking to in the dark. Well, all of the streets were well-lit and because most of the neighborhood was involved with Starfleet in one way or another, there was little to no danger lurking about. Some of the grandeur of the Janeway house was lost to the poor lighting, but it never failed to instill intimidation as I approached the front step. I opted to knock on the large door and within minutes, B’Elanna answered. She quietly thanked me for coming to her aid, allowing me entrance. I could hear voices coming from the members of the other room.
“…Kim?” It was Zimmerman, although I’d missed the first part of the sentence. “Tom Paris has moved in with him, hasn’t he? Do you think that’s wise?” B’Elanna and I entered the dining area as the last question was uttered, prompting Janeway to raise her head. I pretended not to have heard whatever it was that they were saying. There was no way to twist them to make it sound anything but nasty.
“Harry!” She greeted, eyes meeting mine.
“Hello ma’am.” I nodded, “Dr. Zimmerman.” The tension in the room made it difficult to keep a smiling face. Zimmerman was apparently growing to dislike—even mistrust—me now that I was tied to Tom Paris and it looked like he was intent on ruining my reputation as punishment. Janeway asked me to stay a while longer, but B’Elanna’s pleading eyes urged me the opposite. “We have some work to do.” I explained, hoping to duck out of there as quietly as possible. I didn’t want to ruin their little dinner party, but my friend looked as though she’d had enough.
“Well then,” Doctor Zimmerman picked up his glass of wine, “One last toast.” Janeway grabbed her chalice as well, although less enthusiastically. “To B’Elanna, my esteemed colleague’s capable, beautiful, intelligent student… and to the obsession of all who fall under her spell.”
A/N: This is the last of the purely set-up chapters before the plot really gets going :) I hope at least a couple of you are enjoying this haha
The walk home from Janeway’s place was peaceful despite the cold air that bit at our noses. Both of our hands were jammed deep into the pockets of our jackets, heads ducked to avoid as much of the wind as possible. The streets seemed to be darker, the street lights more spaced out. Some of the coastal fog had already begun to form and was covering some of the houses lower down on the hill, closer to the ocean. By morning it’d be thicker, but at the time it only looked like a cheap Halloween special effect. The inner city sky made for poor stargazing conditions and cast a dull orange glow up into the clouded sky. Perhaps not ideal conditions, but we hardly noticed. We were Starfleet officers, invincible to everything. I had no reason to fear the darkness, nor any creatures that might use it as cover. That was kid stuff, something I fortunately never grew back into even after some of the mishaps I had during my career. There were other things to worry about besides the dark space between the stars, as I would soon come to understand.
I could tell that B’Elanna was happy to be away from the dinner party, even if it meant having to do homework. But we were students and that was just a part of the business. And anyways, it was hard to complain when the classes we took were all things we were pursuing as our career path. The two of us were just getting into some of the deeper, more mechanical questions that B’Elanna preferred when she suddenly sighed, putting down her textbook and turning off her PADD. It was so unusual that I couldn’t help but ask what was wrong, although I knew that the engineer wasn’t much one for having people (even me) pry into her private life.
“I don’t know, it’s…” Her eyes moved about the room, almost as if searching for the reason herself. “…just a lot of little things.”
“Like what?” I pried, hoping to get a more specific reason. There was no immediate response to my query. “B’Elanna…”
“Well…” A guilty look played across B’Elanna’s face as if she already felt bad for what she was about to say. “It’s your roommate.”
“Tom?” I couldn’t help but be a bit surprised. Since the night that the man had first moved in, I didn’t think that B’Elanna and Mr. Paris had directly interacted. Other than the occasional nod in the hallway, or brief glance in the gardens, the two hardly even acknowledged each other’s presence. They’d hardly ever crossed paths directly in the house and as far as I knew, no private words had even been exchanged. It almost seemed as though my roommate was actively avoiding the engineer. Perhaps it was the Klingon side that had Tom nervous; it wouldn’t be the first time someone got scared of the forehead ridges.
“He’s always in the room with the door closed.” That was true. The guy had a whole complete setup in there, appliances and everything. He hardly ever even needed to come out. “Don’t you think that’s strange? He doesn’t even go to any of the cadet social events.”
“The guy’s still a new transfer. Maybe he just needs time to settle in.” Burying myself in schoolwork had been my initial reaction when I came to the Academy as well, until my roommate at the time dragged me out of it. I wouldn’t have made any friends if I’d gotten my way. Maybe Tom needed a bit of prodding, or maybe he just needed his own space. Either way, I was sure he’d come out of it eventually. Most people did. To be honest, I was just glad that he wasn’t the loud type that made it impossible to get any work done.
“I mean… do you ever see him? Does he ever eat?” So maybe he wasn’t into cooking. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d somehow snuck a personal replicator past me. It wasn’t really my business… or B’Elanna’s. That’s when I knew that something was really bothering the engineer, some reason for being upset that she wasn’t saying. “He bothers you, doesn’t he?”
“No, don’t be ridiculous.” Sure, he was a bit… different than what I was used to, but there was nothing between us. “I told you, he’s a little weird!”
“Seven is terrified of him. When Paris comes in, she runs and hides!”
“It’s standard cat activity.” I’d grown up with quite a few cats and I knew that they all had their own personalities. Seven wasn’t fond of strangers; it wasn’t really a big deal. I’d hoped that she would’ve gotten used to Tom’s presence, but it hadn’t been long enough to worry. She’d come around before we knew it. Besides, Tom never struck me as a cat-person. Didn’t people always say that animals could sense that sort of thing?
“But not when I’m here! Then she’s all over us, trying to get your attention, and-” B’Elanna cut herself off, as if she’d suddenly thought of something. “Where is Seven? I haven’t seen her since we got here. I haven’t even heard her; usually she at least knocks something over when I’m here.” Despite the lengths I’d gone to ‘cat-proof’ the house, Seven was a crafty little thing. She always seemed to stick her nose right where it wasn’t meant to be.
“Maybe she got trapped in one of the cabinets.” I remembered the time I had to wake up early for an exam and so resorted to a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast. I was still half-asleep and I hadn’t even thought to check up on the cat yet. I had opened the pantry to grab the cereal box when Seven had come flying out of there, scaring me half to death. I hadn’t even needed coffee after that. How she’d gotten in there in the first place, I had never been able to figure out. Since that incident, I was always worried that she’d do it again, so maybe it’d finally happened. No big deal. “Let’s go find her, then.”
“Seven…” B’Elanna began to call, standing up and slowly moving around the room. She repeated the name several more times, looking around and under some of the furniture. Then the engineer headed for the hall, most likely intent on checking the other rooms in the house. Instead of following my friend, I trudged into the kitchen to check Seven’s food dish. It was full, but that was also standard cat activity. They ran on their own schedules.
“Where are you?” I whispered, opening several of the cabinets, all of them devoid of any felines. “Don’t you try to hide from me…” I was just about to open the refrigerator when I heard B’Elanna scream my name from one of the bedrooms. Something was wrong, I knew it. B’Elanna didn’t just sound surprised or horrified, she was pissed. I sprinted around the corner and into Tom’s room, where both Paris and Torres were staring each other down aggressively. Although the man was taller by at least an entire head, B’Elanna still managed to look as though she could take him down in an instant. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that… “What’s the matter?” I pushed past Tom to stand between them, facing the engineer.
“I thought I was renting a private room, Harry!” I glanced once over my shoulder to see Tom lean back and fold his arms. He sounded pretty agitated and it made me wonder if there was something I didn’t know. I didn’t blame the man for wanting some privacy, but B’Elanna hadn’t been in there for more than a minute or so. I needed more information before I could jump on either side. What had drawn the engineering student into the room anyways? A quick glance around could have quickly told her that Seven was not inside, there was no reason for her to trespass further… unless there was some information she was withholding. That brought us back to the same line of questioning.
“B’Elanna, what are you doing in here?” The three of us had previously established that Tom’s room was off-limits, so it wasn’t as if she could even claim ignorance. I was surprised that she was able to get in at all; usually Tom kept it locked. I supposed he’d been down in the basement and had forgotten about it. Really, he’d most likely only come upstairs when he heard our commotion and had caught B’Elanna right in the act. At that point I’d even only been in Tom’s room once, when I’d helped him move some of his heavier items into the house. The bedroom was actually surprisingly clean and organized for a cadet; I would’ve pegged Tom as a messy, laundry-everywhere-pizza-everywhere kind of guy. However the bed was made (albeit hastily) and most things were either stacked on shelves or on the desk. A few unhung posters leaned both against the wall and against the few remaining boxes that Tom had yet to unpack.
“I-” B’Elanna started, but wasn’t allowed to finish before Tom snaked around to stand at my side, quickly resuming his attack.
“Would you please leave?” There was nothing nice or polite about the question, it was spoken more as a command than a query anyways. Then, because both B’Elanna and I had stood speechless, “Now!” Tom’s voice was harsh, almost defensive. He was definitely hiding something in there, but what? It was probably harmless, just something he was embarrassed about and didn’t want us to find. Judging by his demeanor, he didn’t think either of us had caught sight of it yet so he was still eager to cover it all up.
“Easy, Tom!” I hissed, coming to the defense of the engineer. There was no need to be like that. Sure, B’Elanna probably shouldn’t have gone into his room, but it wasn’t as if she’d done anything. As far as I could tell, she hadn’t even touched or moved anything. I intended to find whatever it was that Tom was hiding, but yelling at each other would solve nothing. And seriously, B’Elanna was only being patient because she hadn’t expected Tom to get all riled up, but if provoked much further she’d definitely start to bite back and I didn’t want to be there for that. It was a good thing I’d been trained in diffusion tactics. “Come on, let’s go to the kitchen.” I beckoned to the engineering student now, wanting to question her on more neutral ground.
“In the fridge!” She insisted, pointing towards the small, knee-high door in the room that was slightly ajar. I wasn’t sure what I had thought I would see, but I inched closer to the appliance and pushed the door open further with my foot. It was then that I saw what had spooked B’Elanna: Seven of Nine. Dead. Stuffed into the top shelf of the refrigerator. No, it couldn’t be. I slowly crouched down to get a better look at the animal. I gently put a hand on the cream-colored fur, feeling for signs of life.
“I was going to show you.” Tom quietly insisted, shifting from foot to foot.
“Shut up!” I waved, still staring at the dead cat. I didn’t want to hear any excuses, I was still trying to process the scene. That was Seven, my little Seven, the kitten my parents had given me because they liked her fur color too much to give her away to a stranger. Was she really dead? I didn’t find a pulse, but I still didn’t want to believe it. She was such a sweet cat… maybe a little timid, but nothing worth killing. I turned my eyes back to the man standing nearby. He was glaring at B’Elanna, who was still focused on the animal in the refrigerator. I didn’t like the way that Tom looked at her, the way that he seemed to have a hatred that grew with every incident. It was time to get some real answers, no more lies. “What happened?” Upon hearing my words, Tom’s attention snapped back to my form. He hesitated before answering.
“It was dead when I found it.” He insisted confidently.
“You killed her.” B’Elanna seethed, apparently having already decided on a guilty verdict. “She hated you!” Hate was a pretty strong word when it came to the feelings of a cat, but it was true that Tom shared no close bond with the feline. He was my number one suspect as well. There was one thing that was stopping me from shredding Tom and that was the lack of motive. I didn’t see any reason for Tom to kill my cat and to be honest, that wasn’t something that I cared to try and imagine. Innocent until proven guilty, right?
“It suffocated.” Tom continued, denying any part in the crime. “It knocked the garbage over and got its head stuck in a jar.” Standard cat behavior? Maybe, maybe not. I’d never known Seven to do something like that before, but I supposed there was a first time for everything. “You weren’t home, so I put it in there.” Nodding towards his refrigerator, which I then noticed was strangely devoid of any food. Had he removed the items to prevent contamination? If not, what was the point in using the electricity? Maybe he had another storage container down in the basement, where he seemed to spend more of his time. “I was going to show you.” Yeah? The scenario had probably taken place while I was out getting B’Elanna from the dinner. That didn’t leave much time for it all to transpire.
“You couldn’t call or write a note?” The man knew where I was going to be; B’Elanna’s home info was even listed by the phone in case of an emergency. Even if he was too timid to dial up the commander’s home, there had been plenty of time after we’d gotten back and started studying. Tom couldn’t have stuck his head up from that basement for two minutes to inform me that my own cat was dead? My roommate’s eyes shifted to B’Elanna and I wondered if she was the factor; if he’d waited because he didn’t want her to be around when he broke the news.
“And what would a note say, Harry: ‘Cat dead… details later’?” The man snorted, oddly amused. “I knew you were fond of it. I was just… waiting for a better time.”
“You killed her! I know you did!” B’Elanna obviously didn’t believe a word of Tom’s story. I wasn’t sure whether I did or not. To be honest, it wasn’t what mattered most to be. Regardless of who or what was to blame, Seven was dead. I attempted to take a step towards the door but B’Elanna stepped in my path. She turned to me then, almost as if trying to convince me to take action. “He killed her!”
“Besides, I do not like people in my room!” Tom was apparently still fixated on his most important topic. I’d thought we’d already established this.
“Alright, that’s enough.” I silenced him as best as I could, sensing that things were about to get a lot more heated. I need to get away, needed some time to think. Mostly I needed time to mourn the loss of Seven. We’d have to do something about the body. I had no idea what, but maybe I could convince Tom to take care of it; I wasn’t much one for dead things. “I need some space.” Some time to think. “We’ll talk in the morning.” It would unfortunately give Tom time to generate whatever excuses or lies he needed, but it would also give us a chance to come in with level heads. There had to be some sort of ‘Starfleet’ way to figure it out.
Though B’Elanna wanted to stay and duke it out, I managed to pull her out of Tom’s bedroom without any limbs being torn off. The moment both of us had crossed the doorway, the recruit slammed the door behind us. How insensitive could a guy get? Even if it was an accident, my cat had still died. He hadn’t offered any words of condolences or even tried to be nice. I took my thoughts to the front porch, sitting down on the front step.
“Are you ok?” B’Elanna asked, standing behind me. She’d grabbed all of her books and looked as though she was on her way home. “I can stay, if you want.”
“No, I’m fine.” Or at least I would be. Seven was dead; no amount of pointing fingers was going to bring her back. It wasn’t a big deal. She was just a cat, it was going to be ok. I had half a mind to go search through the trash, to see if there really was a jar in there, but I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to sleep on it. I’d have to call Mom in the morning, tell her there was an accident. She’d want to know details of course, so I’d have to fabricate something more believable.
That night, when I actually did manage to drag myself into bed, it took me a while to fall asleep. For the first time, I started to really question whether I’d made the right decision in allowing Tom to enter my home. Was he just a nice guy, if even a bit closed off, or was there something more at play? He was a cadet, sure, but it wouldn’t be impossible to fake out the moral character test if you knew how to do it right. I made my mind up to ask him more about his personal history in class the next day, but this still didn’t put my mind at ease. I thought I shouldn’t have to do an extensive background on the guy that was supposed to be my roommate, especially not at Starfleet Academy.
If I’d been smart, I wouldn’t have put it off for the morning… or for another day. I should have dragged myself out of bed, but I was just starting to feel as though I might be able to get some sleep. I would definitely need to be well-rested to face the next day; I knew that it would at the very least probably involve a cat funeral and I wasn’t sure I was even ready for that. I spent my last waking moments idly brainstorming what I’d say when it was time to bury Seven. When I finally did manage to fall asleep, it was short-lived. I was woken by a noise: a sort of strangled, ungodly cry that sounded as if it were… coming from inside the house.
I jolted up, heart hammering inside my chest. My breathing was so damned loud that I couldn’t hear anything else, inside the house or not. I waited to see if it’d go off again, but there was nothing but maybe a bush rustling outside my window. I tried to tell myself to calm down; it was probably just some neighborhood pest, or maybe Tom was using his old-fashioned television again. I was a light sleeper, so it really could have been anything. In fact, I was starting to believe that I’d imagined it. I could see the headlines now: Harry Kim, the man who thinks his nightmares are real. Ridiculous. I eased myself back down under my bedsheets, about ready to pull the sleeping mask back over my eyes when suddenly I heard the shriek again. It was shill, inhuman.
Now, I was by no means familiar with Tom Paris’ intimate life… nor did I intend to be. But I did know that the new cadet hadn’t brought any company in since the Seven fiasco, so that ruled out the most obvious reason for a scream in the night. Whatever the noise had been, it was close. Maybe even in the hallway, which was only one step away from my unlocked and unguarded bedroom door. Frightened, my immediate instinct was to bury myself under the covers and hold my breath. I could hide and wait for the sun—the primary source for safety—to rise. It was a tantalizing idea if I ignored my need for rest before having to go to the academy the next morning. I might suffocate before the morning came but at least I’d be hidden from the threat. Well… somewhat at least.
But then again I was a cadet; Starfleet officers didn’t hide from danger. They faced their fears head on and proved themselves ready to tackle any trouble that popped out of an unsuspecting solar system. How was I supposed to pledge myself to that if I couldn’t even tackle a mysterious tone in my own house? No, I couldn’t just wait this one out; I had to be brave. Be brave, Harry, I thought to myself as I slowly peeled back the protective bedsheets and searched in the dark for my slippers. Even after all those way-too-early mornings when my alarm had gone off hours before the sky had begun to lighten, this was the moment in which I most struggled to get out of bed.
Interestingly enough, following my strong gut feeling in this instance would have saved everyone a hell of a lot of trouble. Maybe in one of those alternate universes, a different Harry Kim went back to sleep and forgot about the whole thing. But I didn’t do that.
I put on a shirt and straightened my boxers and dug under my bed for that baseball bat I’d stashed for an instance just like this one. Truthfully, I never thought I’d ever have a need to use it. If I was lucky, I still wouldn’t. Still, it instilled me with just the amount of courage that I needed to stand in front of my bedroom door, hand positioned over the knob. I took a couple of deep breaths, trying to calm my nerves. What if it (and by now, my imagination had run wild, crafting a monster of wild proportions) was right outside, waiting to prey on its unwilling victim? At least it’d spare me from having to study from that blasted engineering midterm…
Without further hesitation, I slowly pulled open the door until I was fully exposed to the dark hallway and beyond. I braced for impact, hand tightening around the base of the bat. After a short moment of waiting for the end, I realized that there was nothing there. I crept out to the living room, squinting through the darkness and trying to identify if anything was out of place. The front door was unlocked; maybe Tom had gone out to dispose of the dead body or maybe something really had found its way inside. I’d give it a couple of minutes and then lock it again. It wasn’t like latching the lock would remove whatever had already come in, so the door wasn’t really a main area of concern. First, I had to find the source of the shriek.
I turned down the hallway now, bat still cocked and ready to swing. I slowly made my way down the tight space, stopping only to peer into the bathroom. It was honestly one of the last places any intruder would visit so it was no surprise to find it free of anything suspicious. Well, there was the Andorian shower gel that neither of us staked a claim to, but that was an entirely different matter altogether.
I then proceeded to try Tom’s door. I knocked at it quietly at first, hesitating to wake the man. It would all sound stupid if he hadn’t heard the screams and I couldn’t imagine even trying to explain it to him. It was almost to my relief that I received no response, although I still wanted to make sure that the source of the noise wasn’t the cadet’s room. Thinking it impolite to just barge in after just one halfhearted effort to draw his attention, I tried banging with my fist and calling the man’s name repeatedly. No luck there either. Perfect. If I could just get a quick peek…
I rattled the handle, quickly finding that the door was locked. To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. It was then that I head a thump and some crashes.
“Tom?” I called out, trying to zero in on the location. I needed another sign. “What is that?” Almost as if reacting to my voice, there was a loud bang that almost made me drop the bat. The sound had come from the basement. Paris was probably down there with whatever it was, what kind of a guy would I be if I just left him there by himself, to face it alone? A smart one, but not a very Starfleet one. Besides, I was going to be held responsible if any damage was done to the house. That thought alone was enough to send me storming down the stairs to continue my investigation. I was too worried about trying to get to the bottom that I hadn’t bothered to look where my feet were and ended up missing a step, putting me off balance. I ended up tumbling down the rest of the way down the stairs, rolling head over heels until I finally landed in a heap at the base. Dazed, it took me a moment to register what was going on.
“Tom, what is that?” I sat up quickly, eyes locked on my roommate. The cadet was dancing around the room, jumping and yelling something incomprehensible. There was something attached to his back, some sort of animal as far as I could tell. It had a light coloring to it and I could vaguely make out some limbs, but other than that it could have been any one of an assortment of creatures.
“Harry!” He growled, noticing that I’d entered. “Get out of here!” Fat chance. I wasn’t about to run away and leave Tom to be some sort of hero. I pulled myself to my feet, re-collecting the bat that’d slipped out of my hands when I had fallen. Tom continued to stomp madly around the room, arms flailing in all directions as he attempted to grab hold of whatever was latched on. “Get it off of me!” The cadet fell to his knees then and I positioned myself over his body, readying the bat. I stood there for a moment, psyching myself up for the task. I’d frozen up, not able to perform the act. I just couldn’t bring myself to swing. What if I missed and hit Tom? What if I actually hit the animal? I just wasn’t that kind of guy.
It was an interesting dilemma, but not one that my roommate probably appreciated. Even then, as the animal let out another one of its dreadful cries, I couldn’t kill it. So I’d found the source of the noise, and so it hadn’t been as catastrophic as my imagination had led me to believe it would be, but it wasn’t exactly… good. After all, from where I was standing I could see some of the immediate damage that had been done. Tom was wearing a white shirt and I could see little puddles of wet blood where the animal had dug its claws into his back. There was a desk that Tom had fallen across when I’d first tumbled down the stairs that now was lying on its side, papers and PADDs and other objects now strewn across the dusty basement floor. Even more damage to the stored belongings was done when Tom wrapped his hands around its body and flung it across the room, dislodging one of the shelves and sending contents to a pile on the ground.
Paris remained kneeling for a moment, breathing heavily as he tried to regain any grain of composure he could find. As I watched, he slowly got to his feet, still facing the area where he’d thrown the creature. I could see no body; either it’d gotten buried in the belongings or it had run. I’d been too busy watching my roommate to notice. Now though, my attention had to be diverted. We weren’t out of the woods yet, although I wasn’t sure what exactly I was willing to contribute to the hunt.
“What the hell is it?” I asked then, trying to get a feel for what we were dealing with. The more I tried to reconstruct the figure in my head, the more I thought it almost kind of looked like a Cardassian Vole, as impossible (and illegal) as that might be.
“Later!” Tom hissed, grabbing the nearest weapon-like item. “Later!” His eyes were flicking wildly around the room, searching madly for some sort of sign of the creature. I began searching now, wanting to get rid of whatever it was so that I could find out the cause of the ruckus. The sound of small footsteps alerted us of the creature’s presence, drawing our focus to another set of the storage shelves. Tom swung wildly at the area, beating the wood and items in an attempt to smash the animal. I had half a mind to tell him to cut it out; a third of the items he was denting were my own. But I knew the man well enough at that point to know that he wouldn’t listen. Why waste my breath? Why break his concentration?
The creature continued to scamper about the room weaving behind objects and tools, as elusive as ever. Everything went silent for a second. Tom and I looked at each other, sharing in the moment of unreasonable tension. The silence ended as quickly as it started. There was a piercing scream followed by a flash of light-colored fur/skin dashing for the bottom of the staircase. I saw my chance and felt a brief moment of valor as I leapt towards it. This time I didn’t hesitate to swing my bat, bringing it down with all my might. I knew there was a reason I’d never gotten into baseball. The bat had missed completely, hitting the concrete stairs and practically rattling my bones right out of my hands. My guard was down and the creature wasted little time taking advantage of this.
It leapt at me then, claws headed straight for my face. I was knocked back with such a force that I was swept right off my feet. Falling back, I hit the ground hard. Already I could feel it reaching for my softer features. It was all I could do to grab as much of the mass of fur and claws as I could with one hand (the other was all that was keeping me from falling down completely) and hurl it at the nearest wall. I expected there to be blood, for something to break and for there to be a massive cleanup scene. I did not expect the animal to shimmer, to distort and then disappear completely. There was the sound of tiny metal pieces falling on the concrete floor, then silence. I had to take it in for a second before I realized what had happened.
“A hologram!” Surprised, I crawled a bit closer to the metal pieces as if they’d offer some sort of explanation. The real source of the possible explanation was somewhere else in the room, ever quiet. As the creature had been flying towards the wall, I’d gotten a better look at what it was. I’d gotten to touch it, feel the texture of the fur and the weight of the animal. Was it real or just wishful thinking? No, I’d seen it with my own eyes. It had been Seven. I looked away from the broken programming to Paris, who was still standing motionless in the back. “How?” I asked softly, still not quite believing what I’d seen. As far as I was aware, there were no holo-emitters set up in the basement. It would be quite expensive to do so, so unless the guy was a secret millionaire I doubted that Tom had installed anything. Especially without me knowing it. No, this was something different.
“Look out!” Tom pointed behind me, suddenly jumping back against a wall. Had the hologram fixed its programming? I spun around quickly, afraid I’d find the cat snarling and ready to dig its claws into my skin, like it had just moments before. But no, a broken program remained broken until fixed. The pieces were in the same position as they had been in before.
Paris started laughing then as if he’d just told the joke of the century. He slid down the wall until he was in a sitting position, not breaking eye contact with me. It was almost unnatural, a mad sort of laugh that made my skin crawl and the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. Who the hell was this guy?
Chapter 6: Chapter 6
A/N: I apologize for the long wait; although my love for this story never dwindles the inspiration for it comes and goes. I had been putting off this chapter because it required me to invent something scientifically improbable and really explain how the technology that the story relies on works. Some canon Tom characterization has to be changed to fit the narrative but also keep in mind that this is from Harry's perspective and so his perception of the man may attribute to the differences. :)
We’d been sitting at the workstation in the basement for nearly half an hour and I still didn’t understand it. I’d vastly underestimated the cadet’s intelligence, something that was becoming increasingly clear. There were times when I’d caught a glimpse of Tom’s test score in class and admittedly had figured his intelligence to be below-par. Technically you didn’t have to be ‘smart’ to be accepted and with family members up in the ranks, I figured Tom had just been set. One of our first lessons at the academy was to not make assumptions—about anything. How could I succeed in a first-contact situation if I couldn’t even withhold judgment from my own housemate? As the night was quickly proving, Paris was no dull tool. He had notebooks—actual, physical bound sheets of paper—full of notes that while written legibly, could have been a different language for as much as I got out of it. Each page was narrated enthusiastically, though slowly due to the many questions on my end.
“It’s really quite simple…” Tom hissed, eventually reaching a point of frustration with my confusion. I thought then, how dense I must have seemed to him. This was his self-proclaimed ‘life’s work’ and here I couldn’t even pass the introductory course. It was a good thing I didn’t have to squeeze units out of it or I’d have to find time for tutoring. If there was one thing he could count on, it was that I wasn’t going to steal his notes and try to pass off his ideas as my own. Even supposing there was any real substance in the material, I couldn’t even say enough about it to pass a sales pitch.
To reiterate a particular point of interest, Paris gestured once again to the ‘subjects’ of the experiment. It was a painful sight, still branded fresh into my mind due to the recent nature of the… cat incident. Despite my hesitation, I forced myself to look at the subjects again. I thought that maybe this time they’d be different. That if I stared hard enough, the subjects would change, disappear, and maybe even go back to the way they were before that night. My hopeless optimism was kicking up again and of course even I could get it through my thick skull that my desires couldn’t come true. I knew better than to try to hope the dead back to life. And the subjects were. Dead, that is.
The first and most unbearable subject was Seven’s dead body, still very much the way I’d seen it in the refrigerator earlier that evening. In my favorite novels, dead things were always described as looking as though they were ‘just sleeping’. I could see that. Maybe I even wanted to believe it a little, to push back the aching feeling in my chest and shield myself from reality for as long as I could. Even in life, Seven had a sort of stiffness to her, as if all of her movements had been calculated and all unnecessary actions were cut out. I could picture a sort of sleep then, if the lighting remained dim, my drowsy eyes kept out of focus, and my attention narrowed on any other party.
The second subject was the distorted, messed-up holographic version of Seven that was strewn on the left side of the workbench. Parts of the program were visibly corrupted or damaged, leaving quite the opposite impression as compared to the other subject. Some areas of the projection were stretched out of proportion, others compressed. The way that parts of the hologram vibrated gave it a strange sort of movement and I couldn’t help but worry that it’d reanimate, lunging at me with claws outstretched. Tom assured me that the projection was perfectly ‘dead’, but you’ll have to excuse me if I didn’t believe him. We hadn’t exactly established much in the way of trust… especially not after the stunt he’d just pulled. That raised to the front of my mind one of the questions the situation had brought forth.
“What I don’t understand is how you’re getting a hologram without having a grid.” It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the concept, but most of what I’d read about it had all been theoretical. There was minimal testing on the subject as the prototypes had apparently been quite expensive to build. Even Starfleet couldn’t justify unlimited spending on something that hadn’t been proven to last for more than a few minutes. That was something for the private institutions to play around with and those were the people who’d been known to refrain from publishing until contracts had been secured. It was all very much something that I couldn’t imagine Tom could be involved in. Not holed up in my basement, no way. There had to be some other explanation.
“You don’t need a grid if you’ve got a mobile emitter.” Tom persisted, adamantly sticking to his story. He spun the holographic cat so that the back of its neck was facing me. I immediately noticed the chipped device, imbedded into the humming particles. He was telling the truth then… or at least part of it. I didn’t ask how Paris had gotten his hands on the device; I wasn’t sure I wanted to be liable for knowing the answer. It was very un-Starfleet of me, but then again all of this was. And yet, I wasn’t sure if there was a clear distinction between what was in or out of uniform. This was what we were studying, wasn’t it? This was what Zimmerman would have wanted from his students, right? We weren’t just faceless, nameless cadets… we were explorers and inventors and dreamers, brushing at discoveries just out of our reach with the tips of our fingers. Starfleet couldn’t punish the pursuit of such ideals… could they?
It didn’t really matter HOW he’d done it. Especially all the fine details smudged into the margins of the notebooks. That was something reserved for the reports and the press releases, if it even came to that. I figured I’d learn about that in some far-off biopic from the comfort of my own starship millions of light years away. Despite this (and the warning lights flashing from my conscience), I could admit that I was curious about the process in general. If what Tom had done could be predicted and replicated in a real laboratory atmosphere, it could be an amazing breakthrough. It would revolutionize the field of holograms.
“When did you have time to model Seven?” From what we’d learned from Zimmerman’s classes, making a hologram wasn’t exactly easy. Even if Tom had used an existing base by downloading one that someone else had used, he still would have had to map all of Seven’s unique features: the scar above her left eye, the nick in her right ear, the specific fur pattern, even just the length of her claws. It would’ve taken hours, days or weeks even. It just wasn’t practical, not with the workload we already had from classes
“I didn’t.” Tom argued, “Look. All life is a physical and chemical process, right?” At this, I could only nod slowly. I had never been adept at biology or anatomy, but that was a sound statement. “DNA isn’t that much different than a computer code; it just uses more bases. It stands to reason that if one could translate sequences of DNA and run it through a computer processor… bang! We’d have the template for a hologram.”
“The theory is not new, Tom.” Mapping DNA was a thing of the past. The same could be said about computer binary. I just couldn’t picture how the two could be directly linked, especially not without needing a massive amount of storage and without losing minute details along the way.
“But my rigging is.” He insisted, pointing first to something that looked like it’d been stuck into the base of Seven’s skull. Tom removed the piece from the hologram, offering it up for my own examination. As soon as the metal was physically separated from the ‘cat’, the projection disappeared and thereby proved that the object was responsible for its existence. At one end of the device was a very sharp needle-looking stem. Small, almost microscopic fibers protruded from the narrow point. These would work to keep the hologram ‘anchored’ to the device. The other end of the piece was flat and black and included a connector that could link to a computer, PADD, or other electronic device. Between these two very different ends was a small cylinder with a sloshing lime green liquid inside. It was so bright it almost looked as though it were glowing. Unless it was slime from the forests of some far-off Class K planet, the contents couldn’t be truly natural and could only be guessed at on my end.
The advantage of hindsight is having the exact formula for the glowstick gloop, although I find it prudent not to reveal such recipes in this kind of narrative. I was half-right on both accounts. The green color was derived from an invasive algae, native to a now quarantined planet in the Dimorus Sector. How Paris got his hands on the stuff was never relayed to me but he swore by the use of it in reproducing genomes. DNA being the more abundant material in the mix, used to program the subject and thereby produce the cosmetic details as seen in the cat experiment. It was crude, not at all something that came about in one batch but something that required years of testing and mixing and testing again. It was fortunate (if one could find anything fortunate about my situation) that I took up residence with Paris only after he’d already perfected his serum. Otherwise, I’d have constantly been scraping various combinations of plant life and questionably obtained DNA samples from my basement floor.
“Here, read this.” Thrust into my hands was one of the journals. It was different than the other pages that had been earlier read; almost like field notes instead of theoretical conjecture. He flipped to a page for me and then vigorously instructed me to read it out loud. I had no choice but to comply.
“With various holographic-projecting devices, I have killed and brought to holographic life a number of rabbits and pigs… cats… and dogs.” I looked harshly over at my roommate. Was he being serious? That was probably most definitely against the Starfleet code of conduct. It was one thing to snatch DNA from creatures and an entirely different thing to KILL them. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand his evident end goal, but it was just… unethical. I couldn’t imagine any end goal that justified that sort of science, no matter how many people it could ‘bring back to holographic life’. During this train of thought I’d stopped reading and so Tom impatiently motioned for me to hurry up and continue. It reminded me of a squirming little kid waiting for the reader of the bedtime story to get to the ‘good part’. There was only one way to get to the end of the nightmare and that was to soldier through. I only made it a couple of lines through until the next set of heavy words hit. “I’ve conquered brain death! However, with the higher animals and the increased storage size required, the reaction has become more violent and my research has become more difficult.”
“Which is why I need you to help me.”
“Help you?” First of all, I wasn’t even sure if any of this was legitimate or if Tom just had some other issues he needed to work through. And if it was real, how could I ethically go through with helping him? How could I even be of any use to him? Paris was the genius at work. I could probably figure out some of the mechanics behind it but the level of holographic programming was much beyond my expertise.
“You’re the perfect person to assist me, Harry!” Tom seemed to be exciting himself with his own words, as if he hadn’t thought of the idea before but was now completely onboard. “Think about it. You’re hard-working, bright… people trust you... and you have access to certain materials.” All very true, but what was in it for me? As if reading my mind, Tom leaned in closer. “We can defeat death! You’ll be famous… and live forever.” I had to admit, that did have a nice ring to it. It was hard to see any downsides, at least the way that Paris was marketing it. Maybe he was in the wrong line of business; if he could get me to warm to the idea of ‘defeating death’, surely he could sell used shuttlecraft. It’d certainly be more honorable. Tom’s offer was tempting to my late-night mind and had I been of the more impulsive sort, I would have taken the bite. There was a catch to all of this, though, I just wasn’t seeing it yet. There was one key piece missing from the notes in my hand, something that would prove to be a serious roadblock if not addressed.
“You haven’t done this on people… have you?” At this, there was a long drawn-out pause. Tom looked away then, evading the question and changing the topic.
“I’ve done all I can down here. I need to get my hands on a bigger storage device.” That was it? That was his only defense? It could mean any number of things, not excluding murder. I’ll admit that was a bit of a reach, but he hadn’t denied it, had he? It was evident that Tom’s limitations were far broader than were mine and our morality was not aligned. There was no doubt that the cadet’s invention could bring good upon the universe, but there was no telling how much bad would have to be done to get there. And speaking of consequences… we couldn’t really measure those in advance, could we? I didn’t like jumping before I looked and this was a leap off a cliff in the fog with no promise of water down below. Maybe it’d work out in our favor, but how could we be sure? “You’ll help me?”
“No!” I wouldn’t sign any contracts without reading the fine print. This could seriously jeopardize my Starfleet career… or it would rocket-launch it into the next quadrant. Hard to say. A Vulcan could rattle off my probabilities, but I didn’t have access to a supercomputer. Just my own judgment, which was more than a little impaired.
“Why… because it’s mad?”
“No, because I don’t believe you!” Upon hearing my words, Tom’s face changed from excitement to anger. He thought he’d already won me over and was just waiting to put the icing on the deal, which made him unprepared for a new bout of doubtful skepticism.
“Harry! How can you say that?” He waved his hands about, then slammed them onto the table with exasperation. “You’ve seen the results!” Had I? I wasn’t yet so convinced, something I had to be one-hundred percent sure of before I stepped into the boat and hoisted up the anchor.
“No, you mapped Seven out beforehand. You programmed it all to look like her and stored it on the… mobile emitter.” The only thing that I was sure I believed was that Tom had a portable hologram-projector. If it were any other night, I might have pushed this subject harder. However… it wasn’t the most unreasonable thing I’d heard and it certainly wasn’t the most dangerous to buy into. I’d concede on that point. It was the least I could do.
“Do you agree that the program is destroyed now?” As if to prove it, Tom picked up the broken emitter, then twisted the wires until nothing usable was left. He snatched a heavy tool from the workbench and smashed the capsule that encased the glowing substance. It oozed onto the table, a consistency smooth like milk but thick like over-watered oatmeal. It did not touch any of the other materials on the table, but I watched it with a wary eye. There was no telling what it could do to exposed skin… or fur. I’d become distracted with the dismantlement of the technology and had forgotten that there was a question at bay, prompting Paris to repeat himself. “Do you agree that it’s destroyed?”
“Yes.” This got me a semi-approving nod and I felt a quick flash of the usual gratification that came with answering a professor’s question right. I sat there while Tom gathered and assembled a new set of pieces, showing me how it all fit together. He then stuck the needle end of the device into the dead cat’s neck, in a position similar but not quite exactly where it’d been inserted into the holographic one. Little lights flashed on the flat end and the green liquid luminesced more brightly than usual for a few moments, almost reacting to the change in environment.
“There. It’s all in here now.” Paris held up the device for a moment, staring at it and smiling as if proud of his own handiwork. He then set it on the desk, where the old one had been before the projection was deactivated. There was a tense moment where he turned to look at me, our eyes meeting while he contemplated activating the new device. “I’ll show you, then you’ll help me.” The statement was spoken as if it were a proven fact and not something up in the air. What the cadet lacked in ethics, he sure made up for in confidence. It made me wonder just how many times he’d performed the exercise, although I hadn’t the stomach to swallow any answer I might receive to that particular query. As previously stated, some things were better left unasked. “That’s why I brought the infernal beast back to life in the first place.” Tom picked up a nearby PADD and typed a few sequences. After a few seconds, he set it back down on the table. “Now, I’ve disabled all major motor functions so we don’t have to chase it down again. Expect some degradation; that tissue has been dead a while.” Without wasting any more time, Tom pressed one final key on the PADD and the goo inside the device once again began to glow.
“God!” I gasped, watching the hologram come to life. The flickering and distortions were worse than the previous one, some parts almost unrecognizable due to the corruption. The projection’s body was wracked with spasms as it tried to move but only succeeded in small twitches and blinks. I was glad for the immobility but this… this was almost worse. An awful cry escaped its lips, the same horrid screech that’d woken me up in the first place. If he could make it still, why couldn’t he make it silent too? “Why does it make that noise?”
“Birth is always painful.” I had no choice but to accept this as fact, seeing as I had no experience with the matter and could not, then, shoot it down. I couldn’t pry my eyes away from the twisted projection. If this was Tom’s goal, it was working. Sure there were bugs (ok, many bugs)… but the holographic creature was still a representation of Seven. That was as close as I was going to get to proof without the man diving too far into the unethical. Truthfully, Paris didn’t need to win my support. He’d had it the moment he’d introduced himself. We were cadets. If we couldn’t trust and support each other, who could rely on us? Maybe it was crazy, maybe it was just me trying to justify pursuing my own curiosity in the matter… but I couldn’t tear myself away. I resolved to be Tom’s helping hand, his crutch, his late-night coffee machine if that’s what it necessitated. We were going to defeat death.
“It’s him!” A shocked voice from behind set us both spinning on our stools, startled out of the blinders that the experiment had wrapped around our heads. Standing there in the middle of the staircase was B’Elanna, a hand over her mouth and eyes locked on the hologram. From her perspective, it must’ve looked like something out of a horror novel; two men hunched over a dead cat and a corrupted projected counterpart, open notebooks littering the floor and space around us. The projection itself continued to scream and twitch, unaffected by B’Elanna’s appearance.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, jumping up from my perch to meet the cadet as she crept down the remaining stairs. Any reasonable person would be asleep at this hour and anyways I hadn’t left the door unlocked. Had I? Now that the doubt was cast into my mind, I wasn’t sure. This didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t been expecting any visitors. B’Elanna opted to ignore my question, instead pursuing a more interesting line of conversation.
“I knew you were upset about losing Seven, Harry, but…” Trailing off as she stared transfixed with the hologram. I waited for the insult to come. For B’Elanna to rattle off some line about how extreme the procedure was, how unreasonable I was acting, or even just a command to move on. It never came. If she was thinking it, she was kind enough not to salt any grief-stricken wounds. And if that seems unreasonable in itself, you’ll have to remember that I’d never lost anything (anyone?) like that before. I didn’t know how death was supposed to make me feel and I think B’Elanna understood that. Anyone who stands by a belief that Klingons don’t have hearts should line up at my place for a cup of bullshit-be-gone and a hearty smack upside the head. B’Elanna was one of my kindest, most attentive friends and I attribute that to the reason why I allowed her to stand dangerously near to the worktable. She stared at the cat for a moment longer, before making up her mind on the matter. “This looks pretty realistic. For an amateur modeler, that is.”
“Amateur?” Tom rose now and I was quick to stand between them. The last thing we needed was a petty argument over skill, fueled by misinformation about the project.
“Come on, let’s go upstairs.” I tried to pull B’Elanna away, but she wasn’t going to budge unless it was she who willed it. “I’ll explain what it is.” Once she understood what the projection really was, maybe she wouldn’t be so critical of it. Maybe she would even want to join the now collective effort. That wasn’t to say that I wanted B’Elanna to get involved in something that could quickly spin out of control, but it would be easier to keep her in the loop than to lie about what was going on. The cadet looked from the subjects on the table to Tom, then finally at me. Wordlessly, she stepped away from the workstation and then towards the stairs. I quickly followed, glancing back only once when I was almost at the top.
Tom had sat back down on the stool and now held a PADD, typing away at keys I couldn’t read from my distance. The hologram fizzled out, disappearing back into the device and leaving once again just the dead cat on the table. The cadet’s head fell to rest on his fist, propped up against the workstation. It struck me as the image of a man defeated, or perhaps just exhausted. Maybe both. I had barely enough energy to fuel my own motives, let alone understand his, so I just shook my head and continued up into the hallway. I would inform B’Elanna of what I knew, hope for the best, and then hop straight into bed. First thing in the morning, I’d take the matter straight to Commander Janeway. I knew that Tom wanted to keep the experiments secret, but if we could get them sanctioned… there was real funding and possibility in that! Not to mention a great deal of worry off my shoulders. Even if the ideas weren’t officially approved, there would be nothing stopping us from continuing them in the manner that Tom had before: questionably and in the shadows. In my tired, overworked, and still very much stunned brain this sounded like a foolproof plan. If Paris could convince me to jump aboard, surely I could convince my superiors to do the same. It was all just a matter of persuasion.